There are vast differences in the professional roles in diagnosing and treatment of hearing loss. It is still common today for someone to get screened, tested, or fitted with a hearing aid by someone and still not know what qualifications that person had. How do you know who you can trust? An important distinction to understand when treating your hearing loss is the difference between an Audiologist and a hearing aid dispenser. An Audiologist is a Doctor of Audiology who is extensively trained in the science of hearing; while a hearing aid dispenser applies for a license after meeting some basic requirements (see below).
An Audiologist is trained to diagnose, treat and monitor disorders of the hearing and balance system. They are trained in anatomy and physiology, amplification devices, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, acoustics, psychophysics and auditory rehabilitation. Doctors of Audiology complete, at a minimum, an undergraduate and doctoral level degree in audiology, as well as a supervised externship prior to state licensure and national certification. This usually requires 8 years of post-secondary education (4 years of college and 4 years of graduate school). The graduate school years focus on the medical, diagnostic and rehabilitative aspects of hearing loss, hearing aids and the vestibular system. Upon completion of training, Audiologists must also pass a national standardized examination in order to be eligible for state licensure. Continuing education requirements must be met in order for an Audiologist to maintain state licensure.
Hearing Aid Dispenser
A hearing aid dispenser is licensed to perform audiometric testing for the sole purpose of selling and fitting hearing aids. In order to obtain a license, hearing aid dispensers are required to pass an exam. Prior to taking the exam, certain requirements must be met, which vary from state to state. In many states, hearing aid dispensers are only required to have a high school diploma. In other states, hearing aid dispensers must complete two years of college or post-secondary education in any field prior to applying for licensure. Some states require completion of distance learning coursework prior to taking the exam.
In summary, the requirement for state licensure to dispense hearing aids is based on the minimum education necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the patient. The differences in education required for Audiologists versus hearing aid dispensers reflect the significantly larger range of professional practices that Audiologists are permitted to engage in.
Audiologists are highly trained degree professionals. Audiologists receive extensive training in assessment of hearing, diagnosis, fitting and adjustment of hearing aids that helps to ensure:
- An accurate diagnosis
- An appropriate treatment plan of intervention
- A positive outcome from the hearing aid